Pakistani media is abuzz with debate on Islamic Military Alliance against the scourge of terror and it’s repercussions for the region. Unfortunately the debate has drifted into barber shop gossip and point scoring, and seems to be losing objectivity. The Islamic World as a whole has suffered tremendously in last two decades, thanks to strategic chaos generated by the Bush-Rice doctrine. Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen have become a cauldron of human tragedies and the smoke puffs arising out of metropolises like Aleppo, Baghadad, Sana’a and Kabul are testament to the fact that creative chaos has eroded the moorings of the Islamic Civilisation, with the specter of a grand sectarian war looming large on the horizon of MENA (Middle East and North Africa).

Where do we go from here? Should the continuation of status quo and rise of terrorist outfits like ISIS be allowed to keep burning our homes, or, can we take a stock of the strategic environment to stem the tide of this menace? There is a greater realisation in the entire Islamic world that we need to put its civilisational house in order and develop capacities and strategies to roll back the tide of extremism, terrorism and sectarian violence.

Last year Saudi Arabia invited Iran to discuss a return of its nationals to next year’s Hajj, after Iranians were excluded from the pilgrimage following a diplomatic row. Saudi-Iranian relations may be heading for a thaw in 2017, as the icy relationship moves into rapprochement between both pillars of Islamic faith. With Trump inauguration knocking at our doors, Iran has also realised that it needs to reengage her Muslim brothers across the Gulf to mitigate the effects of Trump’s likely hard stance against the Islamic Republic.

Pakistan’s commitment for peace in the greater Islamic World and especially MENA region is an open chapter. Her decision to remain neutral in Yemen conflict and efforts by incumbent Prime Minister and ex-Army Chief to cool down tensions between Iran and KSA were widely appreciated. Iranian willingness to join CPEC, and even make Chahbahar and Gwadar sister ports, are some of the gestures positively seen within the region.

The current debate on General (retired) Raheel Sharif’s acceptance to head the Islamic Military Alliance needs more objectivity- this is the main issue this article attempts to address.

Pakistan has very strong and strategic ties with the Gulf region, the location of Islamic Holy places, historical and cultural linkages, economic well-being of Pakistani diaspora working in the Gulf (being one of our major sources of foreign exchange and jobs) and Pakistan’s commitment to defend the Holy Places against any threat, are some of the factors that should be understood by media pundits and perception managers.

Last year the narrative of Pakistan’s isolation and offensive Indian diplomacy to adversely affect our ties within Islamic World was witnessed by a whirlwind visit by Mr Modi to various Gulf States. It is interesting to peep into the Indian press, who has labeled Gen Raheel’s new assignment as Pakistan’s trump card in the Gulf region, checkmating entire Indian strategy of isolating Pakistan. If something on behalf of Pakistan has triggered anxiety within our archrival India, shouldn’t it be seen as a positive development? The international commentary appearing in western press has also acknowledged this development giving full marks to Pakistan for establishing her credentials in War against Terror. An article by John Boon with the title ‘Former Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif to lead ‘Muslim Nato’’ appeared in the Guardian on January 8. Although the article painted the development through a sectarian lens (which has been a hallmark of western press supporting strategic chaos in targeted regions), it did acknowledge Pakistan’s growing clout.

Pakistan’s military ties with the Gulf States are not new, Pakistani military contingents and senior officers have helped different states in training and security, one of Pakistani Armoured brigades was permanently stationed in Tabuk (KSA), similarly Pakistan dispatched a military contingent to KSA during first Gulf War. Recently there has been increasing demand for mid-level and senior Pakistani military officers to help build capacity of friendly countries, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Gulf states and even Egypt have taken help from Pakistan’s growing capacity in fighting the Hybrid War.

The bilateral naval exercise of Iran and Pakistan was held last year where the 43rd flotilla of Iran’s Navy and Pakistan Navy participated. Pakistan- Russia, Pak-China and Pak- Jordan military exercises were also held within Pakistan recently. Military cooperation and military alliances are not something to be too worried about, especially if the objective is regional and international peace.

21st century Hybrid Warfare is a new phenomenon; it has two components, non-kinetic and kinetic, and forms a complex matrix of amorphous and physical features. The Pakistani military has developed expertise and strategy to fight his war with success. Since General Raheel and present Army Chief Gen Bajwa were the force behind successful development of the Army’s doctrine for Hybrid War and displayed its success through Zarb-e-Azb, international military circles have acknowledged the efficacy of this doctrine. No wonder, Pakistani military is in high demand for sharing of their knowledge and expertise in the entire world.

General Raheel’s elevation to command Islamic Military Alliance should be seen as an acknowledgement of Pakistan as a role model for fighting the most complicated war of 21st Century. It is felt that dragging the appointment of Gen Raheel into controversies; especially coloring it on sectarian lines, would not only become counterproductive but also create misperceptions about Pakistan’s enhanced role in bridging the gap between our brotherly Islamic countries.

We should also have a look at framework and mandate of the Islamic Military Alliance; currently it is in formative stage, where its doctrinal, training and operational aspects are yet to be conceived. Training for and fighting the Hybrid Wars of 21st Century, demands synchronisation of all tools of statecraft and formulation of a solid strategy. Media forms the linchpin of the non-kinetic part of Hybrid Warfare and should be contributing by running counter-narratives to ‘Creative Chaos’, instead of becoming an engine of instability. Our advice to the Pakistani media would be to develop objectivity about the whole issue, carry out an intellectual debate based on developing a proper framework.

If Pakistan can bridge the yawning gap between two big brothers across the Gulf by exploiting her central and decisive position, and help defeat the common enemy of terrorism, why be pessimistic about this alliance? Let the winds of love and friendship blow across the Gulf and let Pakistan be the catalyst for peace within Islamic World.

 

The writers are freelance columnists.

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